Woman’s Death From Metal Straw Prompts New Discussion about Plastic Straw Ban

Woman’s Death From Metal Straw Prompts New Discussion about Plastic Straw Ban July 15, 2019

A woman in England died after a metal drinking straw impaled her eye and damaged her brain. Elena Struthers-Gardner use of the ec0-friendly metal straw has put a new focus on how plastic straw bans impact individuals with disabilities.

According to a report in Daily Echo, Lena Gardner was carrying a mason style jar with a lid to her kitchen and collapsed. A ten-inch metal straw in the jar impaled her left eye socket and entered her brain.

Gardner suffered an injury in her twenties that caused multiple fractures to her spine and caused scoliosis. Due to her injury, her wife told the Daily Echo that she was prone to falling.

According to the coroner report, Mandy Struthers-Gardner found her wife laying on the floor making unusual gurgling sounds.

“I did not hear her fall.

“I went to the kitchen door and could see Lena lying on her front at the doorway between the den and the kitchen.

“She was making unusual gurgling sounds.

“Her glass cup was lying on the floor still intact and the straw was still in the jar.

“I noticed the straw was sticking into her head. I called 999 and requested an ambulance.

“While I was on the phone, Lena appeared to have stopped breathing. The lady on the phone asked me to turn her over.

“I slid the glass off the straw and turned her over. I could see the straw had gone through her left eye.”

An ambulance rushed Lena to the hospital. However, she died the next day from the traumatic injury to her brain. Her death related to the metal straw prompted the coroner to issue a warning about using the products.

The coroner stated that metal straws should never be used on a glass with a lid. Additionally, the coroner said that great care must be taken when using metal straws. Metal straws have become increasingly popular as more and more cities ban the sale and use of plastic straws.

Plastic straw bans have been most problematic for individuals with disabilities like Gardner. Cities around the world are no longer permitting the sale of plastic straws that have helped millions of people with disabilities drink. Options like metal, paper, or silicone straws have been pushed as more eco-friendly alternatives for individuals with disabilities.

However, metal straws are most problematic due to their structure and inability to manage the temperature of fluids. Individuals that use metal straws are at risk of chipping teeth, choking, or stabbing themselves by accident. Additionally, the straws change temperature based upon the temperature of the liquid. A hot beverage drunk through the straw can make the metal so hot that it can cause burns.

WOACB wrote about our opposition to bans on plastic straws last year due to our experience with our son. We have attempted to use metal straws for our son with a disability and learned quickly they were incredibly dangerous. Additionally, alternatives like silicone or paper straws are not sturdy enough for someone with oral motor issues, swallowing problems, or fine motor control disabilities. As a result, plastic straws are the only alternative that works for many people.

Cities around the world were quick to ban the straws after a photo went viral of a turtle impaled by plastic straw. However, lawmakers failed to consider how the bans on the straws would impact people with disabilities. Lena Gardner’s death is an example of why metal straws are not safe for individuals with disabilities.

The coroner Brendan Allen wrote the following conclusion about metal straws:

 “Clearly great care should be taken taken when using these metal straws. There is no give in them at all.

“If someone does fall on one and it’s pointed in the wrong direction, serious injury can occur.

“It seems to me these metal straw should not be used with any form of lid that holds them in place.

“It seems the main problem here is if the lid hadn’t been in place the straw would have moved away.”

A knee-jerk reaction to banning plastic straws could potentially end the lives of other individuals with disabilities. For many people, the only option that works is a plastic straw. If Lena Gardner was using a plastic straw, she would still be alive today.

*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Raging Bee

    A METAL straw? That’s an even dumber idea than brown diamonds or camomile coffee!

    And no, the plastic-straw ban did not cause this. Someone’s utterly-asinine decision to make and sell metal straws caused it.

  • LimeGecko

    I wonder if bamboo is feasible.

  • Terrie_S

    From my understanding, the biggest issue is that many people need bendy straws. Straight or fixed angle straws may be unreachable for people with limited movement of their head and torso, depending on the size of the container and where it is placed relative to their body.

  • The ban IS responsible, tho — if she’d been able to get plastic straws, she’d not have needed the metal one.

  • Raging Bee

    Does the ban also cover durable, reusable plastic straws? If so, then it would need to be changed.

  • AFAIK, yes. It’s a silly ban, anyway, more about making people feel good about “doing something” while not really doing anything.

  • Polytropos

    Yep, the ban has been thought up by young (or youngish) able bodied people with no consideration for other people’s needs.

  • There is no ban in the UK – however, many places make it harder to buy plastic straws – and there are issues with people feeling as though they MUST use eco-friendly options or else they are environment haters

  • Nope, they are too hard. There is a list above that gives a good outline

  • It’s so difficult to develop a plastic that can be both easy to recycle and degradates fastly?. Some of the materials listed below are so dangerous that one has to wonder why it’s even legal to send straws made of them.

  • yep.

  • Hh

    There’s a typo in the first sentence…

  • Oh, and the other issue with reusables — cleaning them! They can get seriously gross if they’re not properly cleaned, and generally those of us who need straws don’t have the fine motor skills required to properly clean them. So there’s another strike against them.

  • People shouldn’t have to feel like criminals just to do normal everyday things.

  • Friend

    We are lucky not to have a medical need for straws, and we refuse them in restaurants. Servers set them down instantly, so we say “No straws please” right away. Otherwise they will get collected with dirty dishes and thrown away.

    Even without a ban, restaurants can change their habits and just have servers ask people if they want a straw–or even wait for customers to ask. People used to drink from cups. Somehow that changed.

  • CC1

    Bummer…

  • Sophotroph

    You can still have non-metal straws, but they have to be re-usable. Really, a collapse while holding any rigid object is prone to cause injury.

    To consider this a strike against plastic straw bans is fairly untenable.

  • Cynthia

    Making them by request only would be a reasonable compromise.

    While most people can drink from cups – and commonly do for at least some beverages – it is a different story for those with some disabilities.

  • Sophotroph

    It’s not, though. She didn’t need a metal straw. There are other alternatives available.

    More to the point, if you’re going to start using an alternative to something, you have an obligation to learn any associated risks with the change and adapt to them.

    Single-use plastic straws have to go. That’s going to require us to adjust a bit.

    If we can’t do this, what’s going to happen when we ditch the internal combustion engine? And believe me, at some point, we will be forced, likely at gunpoint, to finally give them up.

    America has to learn to deal with change more constructively or we are doomed.

  • Cynthia

    I remember this issue when my kids were tots. Sippy cups with reuseable straws are a thing, but cleaning them is really hard!

  • Cynthia

    The effect would have been indirect – metal straws made more popular and being seen as the more correct option having fairly quickly without adequate warning that they aren’t safe to be used in all the ways that plastic straws are.

  • Cynthia

    Do ALL single-use plastic straws need to go though? If we had a by-request model that just reduced usage but didn’t eliminate it, along with safer options to dispose of them, would that still eliminate most of the damage?

  • Sophotroph

    I mean, sure, if we treated them like medical waste and had them incinerated, that would keep them from ending up in the ocean, but that would cause its own problems.

    There really shouldn’t be anybody for any reason that can’t use a re-usable one.

    You can even just buy a section of food-grade plastic tubing for peanuts and cut portions off. That’s soft, chemically safe, and easily washable. I use one myself.

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    Go with Twizzlers or Red Vines, whichever your preference (although I’m not sure they work as well with hot liquids)

  • Maybe. But it was still her decision, good or bad. Her choice. She was not mentally impaired.

  • Your ableism is just astounding.

  • Just stop. You’re being ableist. People DO NEED single-use plastic bendy straws. Period.

  • persephone

    Plastic straws are well under 1% of plastic in the oceans. Fishing nets make up over 40%. But we can’t ban plastic fishing nets. Or the plastic rings that hold six-packs, even though they are way more dangerous for animals and humans.

    I’m disabled. I can still hold a job and get through the minimum necessary to continue living. But some days I have flares. I will have terrible shakes. Or I’ll lose my grip strength. On those days, a drink with a straw is the best way for me to drink anything.

  • persephone

    That’s another issue for the disabled. Being able to properly clean and sanitize the straws can be very difficult.

  • persephone

    Are you disabled?

  • persephone

    glitter and six pack rings cause way more damage than straws.

  • Sophotroph

    I eagerly await your illustration of just where there was any ableism at all in my post.

    You did intend to point out where the ableism was, right? You probably just forgot.

  • Those are things we can ban or modify, as well. For the most part, almost all single-use plastic needs to be eliminated.

  • Sophotroph

    Would my answer change the truth of my post, in either case?

  • phatkhat

    When I was a kid, many, many years ago, jointed PAPER straws came out. Why not bring those back? You can now buy a box of regular paper straws at Dollar General for a buck, so they ought to be able to make flexible ones for only slightly more.

  • I think paper straws are probably the best overall solution for single use straws in the vast majority of cases.

  • Don’t have to, it’s blatantly obvious to everybody else.

  • Sophotroph

    You know, I had a zinger all ready to type out, but that’s not how I’m feeling today.

    Today, I just feel disappointed.

    I’ve seen you passionately argue for what you believe in. You have tremendous compassion for people, and that’s respectable.

    But you have a tendency to jump on any disagreement full-force as if you were battling an enemy. It doesn’t seem like facts matter to you after you get angry.

    Don’t have to, it’s blatantly obvious to everybody else.

    An argument you would immediately rip to shreds if it was used against you. We don’t accept that lazy garbage from RWNJ’s, why would you stoop to it?

    I am wholly supportive of people with disabilities, but as there exists a re-usable straw for literally every use case of disposable ones, there’s no real basis for arguing to keep them.

    The disposable plastic straw is not magic, and groundlessly accusing people of ableism doesn’t help your cause.

  • Ally

    Yet another case of trying to get consumers to make small and inconvenient changes that will do extremely little to improve the environment instead of passing legislation regulating the practices of manufacturers.

    However, I’m a bit confused about the temperature control issue. Isn’t it always inadvisable to use a straw to consume a hot drink because you’ll end up taking in too much liquid at once and burning your mouth? Also, the few times that I’ve used a straw as a substitute stirrer, it’s melted the plastic. That’s why single-use coffee cups aren’t the same thin plastic cups that they used for cold drinks.

  • You are not entitled to my time or my emotional labor.

    See the chart I posted for further details, and remember that none of the alternatives can be sterilized to remove mold and bacteria.

    Single-use plastic is simply the safest.

  • persephone

    Yes.

  • Sophotroph

    I never claimed to be entitled to either your time or emotional labor, and you’re not entitled to imply that I did.

    Your chart is incomplete. It doesn’t mention plastic, for example. The straw shape doesn’t stop being useful if you thicken the plastic. Making it re-usable isn’t magic.

    Also, that none of the alternatives can be sterilized is a bald-faced lie. Glass, metal, silicone(another material your graph missed), and some kinds of plastic (food-grade tubing being a cheap and accessible example) can be reliably sterilized. What do you think an autoclave is for?

    Please, put some thought and investigation into the claims you make before you make them.

  • Sophotroph

    The correct answer there would be “No”. The truth wouldn’t change in either case.

    If I am not disabled, I get a lecture about how I can’t have an opinion because I haven’t directly experienced it myself. A position that carelessly marginalizes those who have disabled family members and those who care for them, professionally or otherwise.

    If I am, I get a lecture about how I’m being disabled the wrong way.

    That’s not really an honest way to go about arguing, is it?

  • Sophotroph

    Calling people names unfoundedly and ending your posts with “Period.” makes you right? Are we really doing this right now?

  • persephone

    Your “truth” is not necessarily true. You can have an opinion, but, as Harlan Ellison said, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

    Since you haven’t been disabled, you do not have a clue as to what it’s like navigating life. I went from an athletic, busy, strong woman, to walking with a cane, joints that swell and cause severe pain, 24/7 headaches, and on and on and on.

    So do not ever say you have the truth. You don’t. You’re just someone else who things they know things that they don’t.

  • Sophotroph

    I love that now that you’re mad, you’ve decided that I’m not disabled. Which you still haven’t a clue about.

    Does it not worry you that “your” truth is dependant on your emotional state, rather than any actual information?

  • persephone

    I’m not mad. I just love that you think you’ve angered or triggered me.

    Honey, I was abused for years, first by my parents, then by my second husband. The only thing I feel for you is a bit of annoyance and a lot of pity that you’ve managed to get through life as selfish and stupid as you are.

  • Taizhou Stable machine

    I couldn’t agree more with you both.But it takes time, because businessmen only see the profit and produce inferior paper straws.Buyers suppress factory prices.These are gross cycles

  • sapphiremind

    Plastic straws can be recycled, they are made of the right kind of plastic. The only reason they aren’t now is the machines are not calibrated to sort them. So we could have had the same effect by making dedicated straw recycling containers, without impacting those with swallowing problems.

  • sapphiremind

    Not necessarily, not until we can compare their carbon footprint and environmental impact from tree and paper use, especially considering it might take 2-3 paper straws per drink, due to their quick degradation.

  • Paper straws are tough. Who needs more than one? And paper comes from tree farms, and is typically sent to land fills. So it sequesters carbon. (And where it is released into the environment, it’s harmless, unlike plastic.)

  • Lisa Cybergirl
  • sapphiremind

    Many paper straws start to fall apart if you don’t finish the drink within 10-15 min.

    Paper comes from trees, yes, but the processing of the paper is not a neutral thing, and tree farms can only do so much, that is why people try to recycle paper and switch to non-tree sources of paper.

    Plastic straws could be easily recycled, if they were in a separate container. They can’t be recycled solely because the automated equipment is not designed to recognize it as a recyclable – the holes are too big.

    Things that seem logical sometimes aren’t. That’s why we study them.

    Cloth diapers seem like a better choice than disposable, but it depends on a lot of factors, including where you live and whether you wash at home or use a service (home is worse than a service, and if you are in an area that ever has droughts, the use of water might be worse than the landfill.)

  • I think you’re grasping at straws!

    Plastic is socially harmful, and there are excellent alternatives available that work perfectly well the overwhelming majority of the time. That makes it eminently reasonable to ban plastic straws in food service establishments. As is happening, as should happen. If people are unhappy with those alternatives (which does not appear to be the case) then we’ll see new alternatives developed.

  • sapphiremind

    I’m going to hazard a guess you don’t have problems swallowing.

  • Again, banning plastic straws does not prevent those with disabilities from using ones provided on request, or from carrying their own.

    It’s about costs and benefits. The costs are much greater than the benefits.

  • sapphiremind

    When they are banned, you can’t get them.

  • Of course you can. Bans mainly apply to food service establishments. At most, they might apply to local distributors. They can always be obtained via other channels, such as online.

  • Merle Marie

    Hmm you right ban toothbrushes as well they are also extremely dangerous.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28445623
    In all seriousness this post is great for people who have disabilities and are looking for alternatives
    https://themighty.com/2018/05/review-reusable-drinking-straws-disability/

  • Merle Marie
  • Merle Marie

    I can not begin to understand what you are going through and yes in your case in the absence of an alternative, using plastic straws are necessity.I just wanted to ask then do you also use an alternative to a fork and knife?

  • Merle Marie

    Hmm you right ban toothbrushes as well they are also extremely dangerous.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28445623
    In all seriousness this post is great for people who have disabilities and are looking for alternatives
    https://themighty.com/2018/05/review-reusable-drinking-straws-disability/

  • Merle Marie

    I can not begin to understand what you are going through and yes in your case in the absence of an alternative, using plastic straws are necessity. this post might help you find alternatives .https://themighty.com/2018/05/review-reusable-drinking-straws-disability/

  • Merle Marie

    And in the meantime, where do you propose we store the 8.3 billion plastic straws that currently pollute the worlds beaches?

  • Merle Marie

    The main problem is when travelling it may be difficult. How ever this post is great for people with disabilities who need straws for home use, to find alternatives
    https://themighty.com/2018/05/review-reusable-drinking-straws-disability/

  • Merle Marie

    I understand from your earlier post your wife has some issues I found this post it may be helpful for you and your family.
    https://themighty.com/2018/05/review-reusable-drinking-straws-disability/

  • Merle Marie

    I found this post that may be possible alternatives
    https://themighty.com/2018/05/review-reusable-drinking-straws-disability/

  • Thanks. Fortunately, her needs are not chronic, but are the result of dental and facial surgery that will come to an end. But her main interest is really in avoiding single use plastic. The straw she’s been using, which works very well, is a collapsible thing made with four short sections of stainless steel and a length of silicone tubing inside them. It’s about 3 inches long in its folded state, so easy for her to have with her all the time. Cleans easily. As your review notes, there are lots of good alternatives. Most people who have special needs can probably ensure they have something that works for them, and bans on single use plastic can always include exceptions for those times when people with special needs make a request. Such a system should work for everyone while eliminating 99% of the problem. Which is good enough.

  • sapphiremind

    They can be collected and recycled. But the straws are not the problem. They are <1% of the problem. You make it more difficult for disabled people, more expensive for them, ignore larger problems that would not negatively impact the disabled, so you can virtue signal.

  • Merle Marie

    Yes you right it is a silly ban for those who use single-use plastic straws out of necessity.The main issue with single-use plastic straws is although they makeup a small fraction of plastic pollution in the ocean, however their size makes them insidious as they are consumed by fish.At the moment disposable or single use plastic straws is not recycled, as they are too small and light for machines that recycle plastic. Why are we not then encouraging restaurants,cafes and bars(who in the countries where the ban applies to) to provide straws to people who use them out or necessity? We as consumers have the power to encourage and work with companies to create reusable and accessible products for all.

  • Merle Marie

    Yes you right it is a silly ban especially for those who use single-use plastic straws out of necessity.The main issue with single-use plastic straws makeup as small fraction of plastic pollution in the ocean, however their size makes them insidious as they are consumed by fish.No actually at the moment disposable or single use plastic straws can not be recycled,as you mentioned before “The only reason they aren’t now is the machines are not calibrated to sort them”. So in the interim the only solution is to store them,but where? Why are we not then encouraging policy markers,restaurants,cafes and bars(who in the countries where the ban applies to) to provide straws to people who use them out or necessity? We as consumers have the power to encourage and work with companies to create reusable and accessible products for all.

  • sapphiremind

    Or if you have them collected, then they don’t need to be sorted in order to recycle them, or recalibrate machines so they can sort them. straws mixed in with other recyclables doesn’t work, but if they were pre-separated out, it could work.

  • Merle Marie

    Yes recycling is one solution when we can finally get there,another solution is reducing the 300 million tons of plastic that we produce per year.Remember plastic does not biodegrade, however over time degrades to microplastics which not only destroys the environment invariable affects and effects human and non-human animals. Should we the individuals who are privileged enough to have access, to utilise the alternatives?